Timeform's Adam Houghton profiles five great fillies/mares to have won the King George in the last 50 years.
Only two fillies/mares won the King George in the first 22 years of the race’s history – namely Aunt Edith (1966) and Park Top (1968) – but then along came Dahlia, who dished out a comprehensive beating to the boys in both 1973 and 1974 to become the first horse of either sex to win the King George more than once.
Trained in France by Maurice Zilber, Dahlia arrived for her first tilt at the King George – and her first start against older horses – having won the Irish Oaks at the Curragh just seven days earlier, joining the likes of Roberto and Rheingold in a top-class field. In the event, however, Dahlia proved simply a class apart as she powered clear in the straight to beat Rheingold by six lengths in course-record time, earning a rating of 132 from Timeform, who commented “seldom can a top-class, hotly-contested, weight-for-age race have been won as impressively”.
Dahlia defied odds of 10/1 when recording her first success in the King George, but she wasn’t missed in the betting when she returned the following year, starting the 15/8 favourite having bounced back from a couple defeats earlier that season with victory in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Another filly headed the opposition this time in the shape of Highclere, who had won the 1000 Guineas and Prix de Diane in two previous starts in 1974, but still nothing could get near Dahlia. The winning margin of two and a half lengths wasn’t as big as the previous year, but the manner of her victory was no less emphatic, with Timeform commenting that she had “cantered home on the bit, without [Lester] Piggott having to move a muscle”.
Dahlia contested the King George for a third time in 1975, when beaten five lengths into third behind Grundy and Bustino in a memorable renewal. In total, Dahlia won 15 races during her career, including back-to-back renewals of the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup (now known as the Juddmonte International) at York and multiple Grade 1 events in North America. Her peak Timeform rating of 135 also puts her amongst the highest-rated fillies/mares in Timeform’s experience, behind only Allez France, with whom Dahlia often clashed during her career, and the sprinters Habibti and Black Caviar (all rated 136).
Trained by Henry Candy, Time Charter was another top-class filly from the second half of the twentieth century, achieving a peak Timeform rating of 131 after winning the Oaks (in course-record time) and Champion Stakes as a three-year-old in 1982. She won by seven lengths on the last occasion, a remarkable performance which persuaded her connections to keep her in training as a four-year-old rather than retire her as had originally been planned.
There may have been some doubts creeping in about whether that was the right decision as Time Charter produced a couple of below-par showings in the first part of 1983 before attempting to get back on track in the King George. The opposition at Ascot was headed by the three-year-olds Caerleon and Sun Princess, who shared favouritism at 9/4 (Time Charter was next best at 5/1) having both won classics earlier that season. Caerlon had struck in the Prix du Jockey Club before filling the runner-up spot in the Irish Derby, while Sun Princess arrived at Ascot following a 12-length success in the Oaks, the biggest winning margin in the race before Snowfall came along in 2021.
None of the nine runners seemed keen to make the running in the early stages of the King George, with the America-trained Lemhi Gold eventually going on to lead a closely-bunched field. Diamond Shoal, who had won the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on his previous start for Ian Balding, was always close to the pace and appeared to have stolen a march when kicking for home on the approach to the straight under an enterprising ride form Lester Piggott. He still had a lead of at least a couple of lengths over the staying-on Sun Princess entering the final two furlongs, but then Time Charter, who had come from much further back than the other principals, loomed up on the outside under a strong drive from Joe Mercer. The late burst which had been a trademark of her peak three-year-olds efforts was once again in evidence as she collared Diamond Shoal close home to get the verdict by three quarters of a length, with Sun Princess just a length further back in third.
Time Charter achieved a Timeform rating of 129 for her victory in the King George, showing borderline top-class form, albeit a bit below her very best. She went on to win the Prix Foy and finish a good fourth in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe later that season, while her final victory – the ninth of her career – came when beating Sun Princess by four lengths in the Coronation Cup in 1984. She also finished fourth behind Teenoso when attempting to defend her crown in that year’s King George.
Danedream won the 2011 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in record time by five lengths – Ribot, Sea-Bird and Sakhee are the only others to have won the Arc by a bigger official margin – and the form of the race was upheld when the third and fourth, Snow Fairy and So You Think, were both placed in a strong Champion Stakes at Ascot, and St Nicholas Abbey, fifth in the Arc, won the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
However, when Danedream lined up in the following year’s King George, she still started at 9/1, only fifth in the betting behind Sea Moon, Nathaniel, St Nicholas Abbey and Dunaden. Only five fillies had won the King George, and perhaps that fact, coupled with Danedream being trained in Germany and having bargain-basement origins (she cost €9,000 as a two-year-old), convinced the British betting public that the Arc win had been something of a `flash in the pan’. She had also been beaten at odds-on in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on her last outing before the King George, finishing behind Meandre, Shareta and Galikova, all of whom she had beaten comprehensively in the Arc.
Nevertheless, connections were quoted before the King George as saying that Danedream was back in top form and so it proved. She did well to get up to head Nathaniel in the last stride after her jockey was forced to switch wide, conceding first run, when a gap between Nathaniel and Brown Panther closed two furlongs out. Danedream responded really well as Nathaniel also found more after taking the lead over a furlong out and the pair had a memorable set-to, separated at the line by the smallest possible margin, a nose, in the closest finish in the history of the race. The bare form didn’t quite match her Arc performance – she ran to a Timeform rating of 126 in the King George compared to 131 in the Arc – but it still served to underline her status as a filly capable of mixing it with the very best around over middle-distances.
Danedream became the sixth of her sex to win the King George in its 62-year history, following Aunt Edith, Park Top, Dahlia, Pawneese – a top-class winner for France in 1976 – and Time Charter. She was also the first German-trained winner of the King George and her victory at Ascot made her the leading money-earner in the history of German racing, her total prize money of £3,251,989 (converted at prevailing exchange rates) taking her past Paolini.
Taghrooda was the first filly from the classic generation to run in the King George since Eswarah in 2005 – both having won the Oaks in the colours of Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum on their previous start – and her presence in the line-up certainly added to interest in the race.
The field for the King George was well up to standard, with the runaway Hardwicke Stakes winner Telescope heading the opposition, along with the consistent five-year-old Mukhadram, a second runner in the Hamdan Al Maktoum colours, who had won the Coral-Eclipse at Sandown on his latest appearance but was trying a mile and a half for the first time. Telescope’s seven-length victory in the Hardwicke, reminiscent of Harbinger’s for the same connections before he went on to win his King George in breathtaking style, represented better form than Taghrooda had shown in the Oaks and he started 5/2 favourite, with Taghrooda at 7/2.
In a contest run at a true pace, and in which there were no excuses in running for the beaten horses, Taghrooda was nothing short of magnificent. She was always travelling well and came from further back in the field than she had at Epsom, making good progress early in the home straight and always in control after quickening in fine style to lead over a furlong out. Telescope was no match for Taghrooda but kept on inside the final furlong for second, finishing a short head in front of Mukhadram.
Taghrooda ran to a Timeform rating of 127 when winning the King George, confirming the impression she had made at Epsom by putting up the best performance by a three-year-old filly trained in Britain or Ireland since the brilliant Bosra Sham’s victory in the 1996 Champion Stakes. Taghrooda’s three-length defeat of Telescope in the King George also confirmed her – with the exception of Snow Fairy, who put up her best performances at four and five – as the best Oaks winner trained in Britain or Ireland since the outstandingly tough and genuine User Friendly, who completed the Oaks/Irish Oaks/Yorkshire Oaks treble before winning the St Leger and being beaten a neck in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 1992.
Taghrooda’s reign as the best three-year-old filly trained in Britain or Ireland since Bosra Sham lasted barely three years before another horse from the John Gosden yard came along to knock her off her perch. The horse in question is, of course, Enable who not only emulated User Friendly by completing the Oaks/Irish Oaks/Yorkshire Oaks treble in 2017, but also became just the seventh horse – and the first of her sex – to win both the King George and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in the same season.
Enable’s first success in the King George was achieved in totally dominant fashion. Admittedly, the prevailing soft ground wasn’t ideal for some in the field, most notably the previous year’s winner Highland Reel, who clearly wasn’t at his best and managed only fourth after racing wide for a long way. There was no reason, however, to think that the placed horses, Ulysses and Idaho, both high-class performers in their own right, did not run to form. Enable beat them comprehensively, taking the lead early in the home straight and staying on strongly when ridden over two furlongs out to draw clear for an impressive win by four and a half lengths.
Trainers are sometimes reluctant to place their best horses in a pecking order, but Gosden had no hesitation after the King George in hailing Enable as “the best filly I’ve trained”. That statement was certainly borne out on Timeform ratings – Enable ended her all-conquering three-year-campaign with a Timeform rating of 134, a figure which no filly trained in Britain has bettered since Pebbles (135) swept all before her as a four-year-old in 1985.
Enable also raced on as a four-year-old, though her reappearance was delayed due to injury, causing her to miss the King George. She returned to win all three of her starts in the autumn, including a second success in the Arc, and by the time she made her second appearance in the King George – as a five-year-old after winning the Coral-Eclipse three weeks earlier – Enable’s winning sequence stood at 10 races. A bit of her three-year-old brilliance had been lost by this stage of her career, but she demonstrated other admirable qualities, such as heart and courage, in emulating Dahlia and Swain as just the third multiple winner of the King George, fighting out a thrilling finish with Crystal Ocean to rival that between Grundy and Bustino back in 1975. Enable was always holding on under a hands-and-heels ride late on and passed the post with a neck to spare over Crystal Ocean, with Waldgeist also beaten less than two length back in third.
Waldgeist would get revenge in the Arc later that year, foiling Enable’s bid to become the first three-time winner of that prestigious prize, and she could manage only sixth when attempting to go one place better as a six-year-old in 2020. There was still one piece of history to be made with Enable during that season, though, as she became the first three-time winner of the King George in the 70 years since its inception, powering clear in the straight to win by five and a half lengths. Admittedly, the opposition was nothing like it had been in both 2017 and 2019 – only three runners went to post, the smallest field in the race’s history – but it was still a memorable occasion and an achievement which is unlikely to be equalled for a very long time.